I grew up on the edge of a big city in the middle of England called Birmingham. It’s an OK place. It’s not beautiful or anything like that. It’s got a complicated network of roads called ‘Spaghetti Junction’ (it looks like spaghetti) and a silver shopping centre called ‘The Bullring’ (it looks like a spaceship). People don’t tend to visit Birmingham on daytrips: it’s not as impressive as London, and it’s not as pretty as Bath or Stratford-upon-Avon. But there is something special about the city – and that’s the people that live there. Birmingham is home to a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds. You go into H&M and see girls with Irish backgrounds, or Pakistani backgrounds, or Indian or Chinese, all looking for a new outfit or a new piece of jewellery. You walk through the city at night and smell fish and chips, curry, Chinese food. You get on the bus and hear some people speaking English, and some speaking Urdu. Birmingham is home to all sorts. And now it’s home to one more. Her name is Malala Yousafzai. She’s fifteen years old, she comes from Pakistan, and – incredibly – she’s alive.
What was I like when I was fifteen? Boys, school, friends, books, clothes, music. It’s difficult to think of anything more specific than that. Was there anything bad – anything I was worried about? There must have been. Maybe it was my GCSEs? Maybe it was arguments with my parents? I now realise how lucky I am that nothing in particular stands out. And that I was worried about my school exams because I knew they were important. For Malala Yousafzai, school was something she had to worry about because she was banned from going there. For Malala, it won’t be hard to remember if anything drastic happened when she was fifteen – because that was the year she was shot in the head.
Malala Yousafzai grew up in Mingora in Pakistan. At the age of 11, she began blogging for the BBC (a British news and TV organisation). She wrote about what it was like to live in a place controlled by the Taliban. When Malala was writing, the Taliban were imposing strict rules on the place where she lived: they were banning TV and music, and – crucially for Malala – education for girls. In 2009, Malala was not a political activist; she was a girl talking about her life. She was a girl enjoying going to school, and facing the fact that her right to go to school would be taken away from her. In January that year she wrote: 'I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools'.
Because she spoke openly about life under the Taliban, Malala became well known in Pakistan. The Taliban were angry about this, so, on the 9th October 2012, when she was on her way home from school, they shot her. Almost unbelievably, she survived. She was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where doctors worked on repairing Malala’s skull.
Malala now lives in Birmingham with her family. She goes to school ten miles away from where I went to school. She has won various awards for her efforts to defend education for girls in Pakistan. I want to say to her: Malala Yousafzai, welcome to Birmingham. I hope you’ll be safe here. I hope you’ll enjoy your new school. I hope you’ll get the education you deserve to have. And I hope you change the world. But I also hope you get the chance to be a teenager for a bit. In January 2009, you wrote 'we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taleban would object to it'. In Birmingham, I hope you get to wear all the colourful clothes you like.
What do you think of Malala's story? How would you feel if you were banned from going to school?